Nineteenth Century

Bible money

Moving forward into the 19th century, for the first fifty years, the University appeared to be not much in need of funds, disbursing £1,200 a year to various good causes, largely funded by the Press. This was the success story of the age; the Walton Street complex was acquired in the 1830's, the New York office was opened in 1896. In 1841-45 the Press gave the University £33,000 towards the Ashmolean Galleries, in 1850, £50,000. Most of this surplus income appears to have been generated by the sale of Bibles, reflecting the evangelical movements of the time.

However, the beneficence that this allowed the University was brought to a halt by the 1852 Royal Commission on the State, Discipline, Study and Revenues of the University and Colleges which forbad the University from spending money on non-academic purposes.

Salaried officers

During the 1860's there was constant criticism of the management of the University's finances, and in June 1868, the Curators of the Chest were established to take over all the financial duties previously the responsibility of the Vice-Chancellor. A salaried Secretary and two clerks were also established at this time. The second such Secretary, William Gamlen, held office from 1873 to 1919, and was a partner in Morrell, Peel and Gamlen, a local firm of solicitors who handled much University legal work up to the dissolution of the partnership in 1998. He was the first professional non-academic officer, though a lawyer, not an accountant.

A further Commission, set up by Gladstone, imposed a common accounts format for the University and colleges, which was used from 1871 until the reforms of the Franks Commission in 1967. The Commission was baffled by some aspects of internal financing, and the consequent complexity of accounting required, for example, the analysis of charges to students in 1938 to be compiled on a sheet of paper measuring two feet along each side.

The Curators also managed the estate, and in 1876 agreed to borrow up to £60,000 to build the Examination Schools. There was no budget and when complete the building cost £107,000, excluding £34,000 of interest on the loan. For some years, the income and expenditure account continued to run at a surplus, though this was largely due to the contributions of the Press and the practice of treating monies from life members as revenue, rather than investing them as required by statute. From 1893, however, deficits appeared and by 1911, the University had run down trust fund balances and had no further resources.

A new Finance Board

Council, it appeared, had little interest in financial matters; it was only in 1898 that they accepted a proposal from the Curators that all applications for funds should state from where the money would be found. In 1870, they had, unbidden, given Council an estimate of income and expenditure for the coming year, but this was only formalised in 1903. At other times, Council ignored or sidelined the Curators, despite protests. The Secretary was held in such low esteem that he had to deposit a bond against his good behaviour with the University, and indeed there was no statutory requirement for such a post until 1912. In 1909, when Lord Curzon presented far-reaching governance reforms, he accepted that the Curators were not the lead financial body, but proposed a new Finance Board, leaving the Curators as 'an accounts office, an estates committee and office of works.'

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